Special Olympics and OU players team up through Unified Sports program

In a new partnership with Unified Sports, OU athletes have been given the opportunity to participate in the community in new ways.

According to its bylaws, United Sports is “dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences.” Previously partnering with schools such as Central Michigan University, this organization has now added OU to that list through a newly formed basketball program, the Unified CoRec Basketball Program, which brought Special Olympics players to campus.

In recent headlines, Unified Sports pairs have made it to events such as the Smucker’s Skating Spectacular, a national ice skating show, and the X-Games, a bi-yearly extreme sports competition, performing at the Smucker’s show during half time and showing off their skills at the X-Games.

Through programs like this one, OU students can interact with groups off-campus in an on-campus environment, and get to have fun while doing so.

The intramural basketball program put on in cooperation with Unified Sports is different from a typical recreation center basketball match. With a few altered rules, the games are overall less competitive and more focused on fun.

The most recent one was held on Tuesday, Feb. 17 at the Rec Center.

“Unified games are very different from an intramural game because there’s more of an emphasis on fun, but the games are still pretty competitive,” Rick Brady, one of the game referees, said. “The athletes from Special Olympics bring so much fun to the court, and it’s really energizing.”

At the game itself, players were constantly smiling and energetic, making it seem less like a competitive sporting event, and more like a social gathering of friends. A student from one team could often be seen giving high-fives to a player from the other team. Best of all, this was only the second week of games, and they had all met only one week prior.

Tiffany Slabbekoorn, one of the players from OU and a graduate assistant at the Rec Center, said that an important part about college life is play and how that play impacts a college student. Unified Sports allows university students to make connections outside of the university, while also engaging in a supportive environment, Slabbekoorn said.

The program is also for more than just a form of volunteering in the community. Some students, like Slabbekoorn, found it rewarding to make an impact on someone’s life through sporting matches.

“My favorite part is really just the community that’s built,” Slabbekoom said. “Just having that friendship getting built while you’re out there, and [seeing] how much fun everybody has.”

The experience of working with Unified Sports is rewarding to those volunteering with Unified as well, according to the OU players and referees.

“The most rewarding part for me is that it recharges my batteries,” Brady said. “A lot of the times when you come here and work, it’s stressful games that are very tight and very competitive. For an hour with Unified, all of that kind of drops away.”

Demand was high here for this program as well. The program is only in its first year at OU.

Temikia Rhimes is a mother of one of the Special Olympic players, and she shared how much the Unified Sports program had helped her son.

“I like that they’re able to play in a college setting,” Rhimes said. “I like seeing the kids enjoying themselves, because they don’t get too many opportunities to do stuff like this.

“I like seeing my son participating in sports he loves to do and succeed at it like the other kids, and be good at it.”

For more information on Unified Sports visit www.specialolympics.org.